HAIDEE V. EUGENIO, GMA News Online
GARAPAN, Saipan — A United States lawmaker has introduced a bill seeking to grant a new immigration status to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and other foreigners with US citizen children in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) as of May 8, 2008.
These OFW parents and other immediate relatives of US citizens are among the four specific groups of individuals who will qualify for a proposed “CNMI-only resident status."
Non-voting CNMI delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan’s HR 1466, once signed into law by President Barack Obama, will allow these groups of individuals to lawfully remain in the CNMI even after their so-called umbrella permits expire on Nov. 28, 2011.
The bill is now under review by the US House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs that has oversight on US territories such as the CNMI and Guam.
It has yet to pass the US House and Senate, and be signed into law by Obama.
Hailing the bill
OFWs with US citizen children in the CNMI hailed the bill’s introduction.
But they also recognize that the bill is “unfair" to hundreds or even thousands of OFWs and other foreigners who have been legally working in the CNMI for more than five, 10, or 20 years but without US citizen children.
Any child born in the CNMI, as a US territory, is automatically a US citizen regardless of the nationality of their parents.
Thousands of Filipino contract workers in the CNMI have children born here.
Anna Alcazar, an OFW who is a mother of two US citizen children, said the proposal will “really benefit" a lot of parents and families like hers.
The bill’s author said his main intent is not to break apart families as a result of a US law placing under the CNMI’s immigration under federal control.
If nothing is done to address the immigration status of foreigners in the CNMI, parents would be forced to exit the CNMI and leave behind their US citizen children.
In Alcazar’s case, if no regulation is issued or law passed to address the immigration status of foreign workers like her, she would have to choose between leaving her son and daughter in the CNMI who are only 15 and 12 years old or bring them to the Philippines with her.
Like most Filipino parents in the CNMI, they believe their US citizen children would have better chances in life if they stay in this US territory where public education, among other things, is free.
‘Unfair to many others’
Alcazar came to the CNMI’s capital island of Saipan to work as an administrative assistant at a restaurant in 1990. Today, she is an accountant at a travel and car rental agency.
She and her boyfriend — also an OFW — have children born in 1996 and 1999, qualifying them for the proposed new immigration status.
“But like I said, the bill is unfair to many others who have been working here for 20 years or so but do not have US citizen children," Alcazar told GMA News Online on Tuesday night.
Ronnie Doca, board chairman of the United Workers Movement-NMI, a major group of foreign workers in the CNMI, said that while he lauds the bill’s intent the group considers it “discriminatory."
Doca himself has six US citizen children and this makes him eligible for the proposed immigration status.
“As a leader of a workers’ group, I also have to think about the thousand other foreign workers who have also invested years helping to build the CNMI economy but do not have US citizen children. It’s discriminatory and unfair to them," he said.
The CNMI is home to some 10,000 OFWs and their families.
Doca said the United Workers Movement-NMI continues to demand the US Congress to grant a status to long-term foreign workers that will provide a pathway to US citizenship. His group has long been asking for improved immigration status for foreign workers who have been legally working in the CNMI for at least five years.
Besides the parents or immediate relatives of US citizens, the other groups of individuals covered by the proposed “CNMI-only resident status" are immediate relatives of US citizens as defined in US law, CNMI permanent residents, and 91 or 92 individuals born in the CNMI between January 1, 1974, and January 9, 1978 but were not granted US citizenship.
Under the bill, these individuals will be treated as CNMI permanent residents only, including permitting entry to and exit from the CNMI.
They are, however, not permitted to travel to, or reside in, any part of the United States or its territories, other than the CNMI.
This bill is entirely separate from the CNMI Senate's recommendation to the US Congress to grant foreign workers who have been in the CNMI for at least 10 years as of May 2008 a status similar to those granted to Freely Associated States.
The US Department of the Interior also recommended to Congress to grant foreigners who have been legally working in the CNMI with improved status under at least five options that include conferring outright citizenship or a FAS citizen-like status.
The US Congress, however, has yet to act on either of the two recommendations. — PE/VS, GMA News